Friday, June 24, 2011

Uprising - 1. Understanding the new meaning of proletarianization

The increasingly commonplace view that government and the state is "the problem" can be traced to the rise of the internet. This relationship is defined by the idea that the internet is unregulated. This means it is "free" of government oversight, thereby making possible an endless vista of human ingenuity. It would seem that everyone wants this combination - freedom coupled with ingenuity - and, say the anti-state advocates, government is a hindrance to achieving this state of being.

This theory of "freedom" is complex, which is ironic given that being free should be easy, simple, an everyperson's agreed state of being. The complexity is in the fact that an absence of regulation opens up the vista of human behavior. As soon as regulation is removed, the mass of society becomes much more complex indeed. Previous "agreements" within civil society about what to regulate give way to excess and the excess is what the internet is about.  

This moves marks the reinvention of proletarianization.

The term was first commonly used by Karl Marx and Marxists to describe the impact of the labor theory of value. In this industrial model, wages were given in return for hours worked, and in this relationship it was possible to see the exploitation of the laborer as s/he became valued only for the labor offered. Thus workers underwent a process of proletarianization because their autonomy was taken from them as they were reduced to laborers within the machine of industrial production.

Contemporary proletarianization is a condition where it is possible to see the entire edifice of human behavior, not just labor and its relationship to the capitalist project of surplus value or profit.

In other words, the internet has become the means of opening up this transparency, so that the nature of  being itself is observable. Without regulation every aspect of human behavior has entered the domain of the internet - from crime to pornography to excesses in violence - where it is observed, practiced, promoted, promulgated and sold.

The demise of regulation on the internet is a double edged sword. It allows everything digital to circulate and it allows our entire lives to be observed, surveilled and monitored by governments, corporations and other individuals. The absence of regulation means the new meaning of proletarianization can be understood as the unregulated exposure of human beings.

Next time I will consider the challenge the shift to proletarianization presents to governments which have relied on Western European Enlightenment concepts of regulation. By accepting the internet, they have undone the core rationale for regulation and civil society.  

For more on this subject see, Uprising: The Internet's Unintended Consequences by Marcus Breen at